Tuesday, November 22, 2016


A single word killed thousands. In 1945 the difference between 'ignore' and 'consider' was not translated appropriately. The Japanese mokusatsu, which can mean either word, was incorrectly interpreted, delivered to the Allies, and so, with Truman, Churchill, and Stalin's ultimatum 'ignored', the great bomb fell. Had the translator but understood mokusatsu to mean 'we are considering your ultimatum', much of history would be different. Words. Does not a person living, and some dead, have so much impact on others? Do we not all want a win-win?

We are buoyed by words. We float or sink by them. We wrestle with the poet's meanings. We find ourselves smiling, or frowning, or turned off. Chaucer and Shakespeare, or Marlow and Bacon can still seem dreadful to some. (Yes, even those who like bacon can be confused). Much of the wordsmith’s meanings rely on the listener, the reader, the interpreter, and the interpretation to be accurate. Or as Romeo said, we can “jest at scars that bear no wounds.”

So we can find ourselves discombobulated. There grows a great plethora of multiple meanings and double-speak, of double-entendres and metaphor and symbolism. Accuracy and precision are not the purview of most politicians. They certainly are not the tools of the poet. Hemingway would call a spade a spade. But Tolstoy, that inimitable interpreter of the human condition, as well as Wordsworth, or Jung, make much of the ontological differential. We prefer a clear stage direction, as in the final imperative of 'Waiting for Godot’: (They do not move.) Yes, the esoteric can be upstaging, off-putting, frustrating. Knowledge relies on the connections we have made with another's contentions. With what else might we prick the consciousness into yet more light?

Responsibility relies on ethics. Contracts ensure a measure of obligatory actions; promises can otherwise too easily be forgotten. In the clouds of obscurity o'erwhelming the margins and the vocalizations of intent, there lies many a broken promise along the waysides; what else is a divorce, a betrayal, an obfuscation, an outright lie? We are brutalized by the actions that gainsay our words. We are eroded. We are bereft of character, of compliance, of honour. The desperation of hara-kiri, that Japanese extreme of doing away with the self, is indeed a tragedy.

Ethics has it that there be a win-win. Ethics does not imply absolute truth. One knows when the truth will hurt or betray. Just because a question is asked, does not mean it deserves the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Many a priest has to swallow the confessions of others; and so the identity of even a murderer can remain concealed. We humans make much of the words we parlay. Phrases sew up the tapestry of our lives, give meaning to the confabulation, and wend their way into our psyches such that we become variously religious, variously spiritual, and variously aptitudinal. Yes, neologisms create new words. Language itself entwines the frayed edges of our collages and evolves new meanings, new morphemes, new invigoration in order to adapt to the changing paradigms not only of our meaning makings, but of our evolution itself. Still, we do not easily seek a win-win. We remain rather keen on getting the best end of a deal.

That our world is shrinking, in terms of natural resources, forests, clean water, and arable land is no longer in dispute. Steve, the bush-pilot said, just today, "You'd hardly recognize Northern Ontario. The Kimberly Clark logging has decimated it. Pristine places I visited as a child when my father and I flew all over this land, British Columbia, have dwindled down to logging roads. The effect is dramatic. There are fewer and fewer places now to take the tourist for a visit." And yes, the oceans are absorbing our toxins. And yes, the miasma of despondency pervades. We are not making careful choices. The latest news of the daily toxins into the seas of Japan confirms it. With what then, as a single individual, is one to respond? There is but ethics, each for each, or are we but a collection of rock faces, frozen into petroglyphs; a passive record of our passing? Mokusatsu, to be considered rather than ignored, indeed.

Blue North (1976) by Richard M-Pentelbury

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